As former President Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the results of the 2020 election at the U.S. Supreme Court failed in the weeks before Jan. 6, a dark shadow was cast over the Proud Boys and they became filled with profound anger.
What followed, former Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino told a jury on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., was a “constant” stream of discussions that led him and other Proud Boys to believe an “all-out revolution” lay just ahead.
Bertino pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in October 2022 and in search of leniency for his sentence, he agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department and testify against members of an extremist group he once held in esteem, including its ringleader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio.
Tarrio and his co-defendants, Proud Boys Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joseph Biggs, and Dominic Pezzola—all facing charges of seditious conspiracy—have been on trial for 24 days. Bertino’s appearance has been hotly anticipated.
A key witness for the government, Bertino on Wednesday described how the potential for revolution littered Proud Boys chats on Telegram, including a channel for the group’s “Ministry of Self-Defense” (MOSD) where, prosecutors say, operations to stop the certification of the election by force were often coordinated in code.
The notion that the nation was on the “precipice” of a revolution occurred in parallel, Bertino described, to another prevailing theme in talks before Jan. 6, 2021: If there was going to be a chain reaction leading to “something big,” then so be it. And if the “normies” followed behind Proud Boys, the self-proclaimed “tip of the spear” toward the future they envisioned, even better.
“We always led the way with normies behind us,” Bertino said in court Wednesday as he reviewed text messages and Telegram chats sent on the day of the insurrection.
Proud Boys considered normies to be anyone who voted for Trump, considered themselves right-wing, or aligned with their group politically or ideologically. These were allies. Opponents were “commie traitors” or anyone who was a Democrat or bureaucrat. Or, he said, if they were police who “sided with the incoming [Biden] administration.”
On Jan. 6, just before 1 PM, when the first wave of rioters began to breach the Capitol, Bertino was sending messages rapid fire to members in the MOSD Telegram channel. Bertino wasn’t at the Capitol because he was still recovering from being stabbed during a pro-Trump rally the month before.
But he watched at least six or seven press feeds and other streams from around the Capitol and from near Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. This way, he was able to pass information or observations along to Proud Boys on the ground, he said.
If people were getting arrested, getting hurt, doing “something stupid,” he could find out.
Bertino told the jury when his girlfriend asked him to show her what was happening in D.C. in real time, he began screen-recording the Proud Boys “New MOSD” chat and shared the video with her.
When Charles Donohoe, another Proud Boy who has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assault charges, messaged the group and “sarcastically” remarked “oops, we stormed the Capitol building,” Bertino recalled how he next urged for Proud Boys to “form a spear.”
By getting into “a wedge formation with a point, it is easier to drive your way through a crowd if you need to,” Bertino testified.
Prosecutor Erik Kenerson elicited from the former North Carolina Proud Boy chapter leader that he was “excited” at the prospect of “watching the guys about to go into the building.”
“I thought I was watching history,” Bertino said.
He was also angry he couldn’t be there and asked for those on the ground to send him more videos.
“I thought this was a revolution starting and I was upset I wasn’t there to witness it,” he said.
Later he reiterated the point: “I wanted to be there to witness what I believed was the next American revolution.”
When then-Vice President Mike Pence announced that he would not move to unilaterally overturn the election, Bertino was quick to tell the chat: “Don’t worry, boys. America’s taking care of it right now.”
As the rioting exploded and Capitol Police became badly overrun and assaulted, Bertino and other Proud Boys, including elders like John Stewart (aka “Johnny Blackbeard”) and Aaron Wolkind (aka “Aaron of the Bloody East”) appeared to revel.
In a message sent at 1:52 PM on Jan. 6, Bertino reported to MOSD members that cops had been pushed back and were retreating. After telling Stewart and Wolkind that he had “tears in his eyes,” Stewart replied: “Accelerate.”
Meanwhile, in a side chat happening with Tarrio, Bertino told the national leader of the neofascist group: “Brother you know we made this happen.”
Bertino told prosecutor Kenerson “we” referred to the Proud Boys. When Kenerson drilled down and asked him to elaborate, Bertino obliged.
“I meant that we influenced people, the normies, enough to make them stand up for themselves and take back their country and their freedom,” he said.
Bertino was proud of what he saw, he told Tarrio during the attack on the Capitol.
“I know,” Tarrio replied.
When Bertino told Tarrio, “we did it,” Tarrio told Bertino he loved him and moments later, Tarrio wrote “this is it.”
Bertino replied: “1776 motherfucker.”
That was a reference to America declaring its independence from England, Bertino told the jury. He didn’t understand what Tarrio meant when Tarrio replied to him, “The winter palace.”
Bertino then told Tarrio: “They need to get peloton.”
This wasn’t a reference to the indoor exercise bike.
Letting out a light chuckle as he explained, Bertino said “peloton” was then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“She was the talking head of the opposition,” Bertino said. “They needed to remove her from power.”
Jurors also saw how Tarrio and Bertino appeared to play coy with each other when Bertino sent Tarrio a video of defendant Dominic Pezzola. Pezzola is seen using a riot shield to break through a window at the Capitol.
“Recognize anyone? lmfao,” Bertino wrote.
“Noppeee,” Tarrio replied.
Tarrio suggested maybe the man was George Washington, or Ben Franklin, or perhaps Samuel Adams.
Tarrio, Bertino said, never condemned Pezzola’s actions to him.
Once day turned to night and the Capitol began to be cleared of rioters, the high of jubilant patriotism that the former Proud Boy once felt began to fade.
“Later that evening, I started to feel less patriotic. I felt like it was a complete waste of time and a failure,” Bertino said.
After Trump told people, “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us … but you have to go home now” at 4:17 PM, Bertino told the MOSD chat, “fuck that.”
It wasn’t about Trump anymore, it was “about the people.”
“We weren’t there for him, we were there for ourselves,” he added.
To see people pushed out of the Capitol and after the gains made that afternoon, Bertino told jurors that he felt in that moment that “if we gave that building up, we were giving up our country.”
By 6:07 PM, Bertino told MOSD: “We failed. The House is meeting again.”
On Wednesday, he explained this to the jury.
“The revolution had failed because the House was still going to go on and certify the election,” he said.
Ashli Babbit, a Trump supporter and veteran who was shot by a police officer as she tried to breach a barricaded window leading to the House floor, had died “for nothing,” Bertino said.
The “disgrace” of their failure to take the Capitol weighed heavily on him and “half measures,” he told the Proud Boys, “mean nothing.”
It wasn’t good enough that Congress may have been afraid.
“Fuck fear, they need to be hung,” Bertino wrote on Jan. 6.
In court, it seemed the consequences of those actions were never far from Bertino’s mind as he sat before the jury in a dark gray suit, his beard as long as it was when he communicated with Proud Boys on the ground in Washington.
“Going halfway into the Capitol and then relinquishing it did nothing but cause a lot of problems for people in the country and the people that went in there. It didn’t accomplish anything,” he said.
Though the normies seemed to be the force multiplier that Proud Boys were all too happy to have before the insurrection, afterwards, on Jan. 7, it was the normies Proud Boy leader John Stewart blamed.
“That building should still be occupied right now,” Stewart remarked.
But instead, there were too many people who opted to “run around and take a bunch of fucking selfies and you know, steal some fucking memorabilia to prove that they were in there so their conviction is assured.”
Cross-examination of Bertino by the defense began on Wednesday night and will resume on Thursday.
For a blow by blow, check out the megathread on Twitter available below, or check out the Daily Kos live blog.